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68

"THE BRUCE" OF BARBOUR.

opportunity of tearing the cloak from the ignorant and vicious churchmen of his day, this old poet may be said to have struck the first great blow in the battle of the English Reformation.

“ Piers Ploughman” is unrhymed, having, as its distinctive feature, a kind of alliteration; probably borrowed, as Dr. Percy shows in his “ Reliques," from the Icelandic. The following lines will show the nature of this alliteration:

(and

Ac on a May Morwening

On Malvern hills
Me be Fel a Ferly,

Of Fairy me thought.
I was Weary for-Wandered,

And Went me to rest
Under a Brood Bank,

By a Burn's side;
And as I Lay and Leaned,

And Looked on the waters,
I Slornbered into a Sleeping,

It Swayed so mury.

[wonder worn out with wandering

[broad (stream's

[sounded-pleasant

John BARBOUR.—Two dates, 1316 and 1330, are assigned for the birth of Barbour, and Aberdeen is named as his native place. He was made Archdeacon of Aberdeen in 1356. Next year we find him acting as one of the commissioners that met at Edinburgh to deliberate upon the ransom of the king, and also receiving a passport from Edward III. that he might visit Oxford for purposes of study. Three other passports were also granted to him by the English king at various times.

Barbour's great poem is The Bruce, an epic, written probably about 1376, in that eight-syllabled verse which Scott has made so famous. The work embraces the events of about forty years, from the death of the Maid of Norway in 1290 to: the death of Lord James Douglas in 1330; and though styled by the poet himself a Romaunt, its main narrative has been accepted as true history by all the leading writers upon Scottish affairs. Another poem, called The Stewart, is said to have been written by Barbour ; but it has been lost. Two pensions, one of £10 Scots, the other of 20 shillings, were granted to the poet, both pro

LYDGATE, THE MONK OF BURY. 69

bably by Robert II. The language in which Barbour wrote does not differ much from the English of Chaucer, the chief dis. tinction consisting in the broader vowel-sounds of the Scottish poem. Barbour is thought to have died in 1395. ANDREw WYNToUN.—This priest, supposed to have been born about 1350, was Prior of St. Serf's at Lochleven, a house under the rule of the great Priory of St. Andrews. In ruder strains than Barbour, he wrote about 1420 an Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, extending from the creation to 1408. This work, part of which was the composition of another poet, is, when we make allowance for the fabulous legends interwoven with it, a clear, trustworthy historical record. It is divided into nine books, and written in eight-syllabled rhymes. THOMAS OcCLEVE-This writer of verses, for poet we can scarcely call him, is thought to have lived and written about the beginning of the fifteenth century. We learn from his works that he was a lawyer; that he held a government situation under the Privy Seal; and that he led a wild, extravagant life. His chief poem is founded on a Latin work, De Regimine Principum, written by Egidius, an Italian monk of the thirteenth century. On the whole, Occleve's verse must be judged rather by its quantity than its quality. His admission into the ranks of our English writers of note is owing to the circumstance of his writing in a barren age, when every versifier was a man of mark. *John LYDGATE–Lydgate, the monk of Bury, flourished in the reigns of Henry W. and Henry VI. Educated at Oxford, he added to his college training a wider view of life by travelling in France and Italy. On his return home he opened a school for the instruction of the young in verse-making and polite composition. His ready pen, kept unceasingly busy, supplied verses of every style and sentiment, producing ballads and hymns with equal ease. He wrote for masks and mummings, coronations and Saints' days, for king, citizen, and monk; and no doubt found the fruit of his work multiplying in the solid shape of gold and silver coin. The chief works of Lydgate, whose forte lay in flowing and diffuse description, were the History of Thebes, the Fall of

70

PROSE WEITERS OF THE FIRST ERA,

Princes, and the History of the Siege of Troy—the last named being borrowed from Colonna's prose.

BLIND HARRY.—A poor man, so named, wandered about Scotland during the third quarter of the fifteenth century, reciting poems for bread. This was the author of The Wallace, a companion work to Barbour's “ Bruce,” but rougher in the grain and less trustworthy, owing to its being chiefly woven from the popular legends afloat concerning the tall hero of Elderslie. Wallace" contains about twelve thousand lines.

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PROSE WRITERS. JOHN DE TREVISA.—A Latin work, the Polychronicon of Higden, a monk of Chester, was translated into English prose about 1387 by Trevisa, who was vicar of Berkeley in Gloucestershire. Many other translations were executed by the same pen.

SIR JOHN FORTESCUE.—Born, it is supposed, in Devonshire, this eminent lawyer became in 1442 the Chief-Justice of the King's Bench. Remaining faithful to the Red Rose through every change, he followed Queen Margaret into France, where he lived in exile for some time. Out of evil came good. We owe to this banishment one of the finest of our early English lawbooks, De Laudibus Legum Angliae, written in the form of a conversation between himself and his young pupil Prince Edward. Much more interesting, however, to us is an English work from his pen entitled, Of the Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy, in which he compares the French and the English in regard to liberty, much to the disadvantage of the foriner people.

3

CAXTON'S PRINTING OFFICE.

71

SECOND ERA OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF PRINTING IN 1474 A.D. TO THE

ACCESSION OF ELIZABETH IN 1558 A.D.

CHAPTER I.

THE OLD PRINTERS OF WESTMINSTER.

Caxton's house.
His face
Birth and boyhood.
On the Continent.
Invention of printing.
Trade in books.
Envoy at Bruges.

Serves the Duchess.
First literary work.
At Cologne.
History of Troy.
The Almonry.
Old printers at work.
Book-binding.

The Game of Chesse.
Publishing.
Caxton's death.
Wynkyn de Worde,
Richard Pynson.
A contrast.

In one of the most squalid recesses of Westminster there stood, until 1845, a crazy building of wood and plaster, three stories high. Its pointed roof and wooden balcony were seldom free from poor fluttering rags of clothing, hung out to dry by the wretched tenants. The very sunlight grew sickly when it fell into the poverty-stricken street, where slipshod women, unshaven lounging men, and pale stunted children slunk hopelessly about. Foulness, gloom, and wretchedness were the prominent features of the place around the frail timbers of the house in which the first English printer is said to have lived and wrought. It was almost a mercy when a new street was driven through the poor old house and its tottering neighbours. Not far from this, in the Almonry or Eleemosynary of the Abbey, where the monks of Westminster used to distribute alms to the poor, that London merchant, whose name has grown to be a household word, set up, most probably in 1474, the first printing-press whose types were inked on English ground.

72

EARLY LIFE OF CAXTON.

As we write the name of Caxton, a grave and beardless face, with an expression somewhat akin to sadness, rises from the past, looking calmly out from the descending lappets of the hood, which was the fashionable head-dress of his day. All honour to the memory of the Father of the English Press !

Born about 1412 in some lonely farm-house, a few of which were thinly scattered over the Weald or wooded part of Kent, William Caxton grew to boyhood among the simple peasants of that wild district. Probably about 1428 he assumed the flat round cap, narrow falling bands, and long coat of coarse cloth, which then formed the dress of the city apprentice; and was soon, no doubt, promoted to the honour of carrying lantern and cudgel at night before the worshipful Master Robert Large, the rich mercer to whom he was bound. A mercer then did not confine his trade to silk : he dealt also in wool and woollen cloth ; and, no doubt, in the parcels from the Continent there often came, for sale among the rich English, a few copies of rare and costly manuscripts. From such the apprentice probably obtained his first knowledge of books in their old written shape.

Upon the death of his master, Caxton went abroad, and continued to reside chiefly in Holland and Flanders for fully thirty years. What his exact position was cannot be determined ; but it is supposed that he acted as travelling agent or factor for the Company of London Mercers. While he was thus employed, the great invention of printing began to attract the notice of the world. Laurence Coster, in the woods of Haarlem, had shaped his letters of beech-bark, and had looked with delight upon the impression left by the sap upon the parchment in which he had wrapped them. Gutenberg of Mentz, catching a sight of old Coster's types, had shut himself up in the ruined monastery by Strasbourg, to make the inks, the balls; the cases, and the press, Faust and Schoeffer had joined with Gutenberg, and had betrayed him when they knew his secret. Faust, by offering for sale as many Bibles as were asked for, at one-eighth of the usual price, had excited the wonder of the Paris world, and had evoked a cry that he was in league with the Enemy of man. And those strange

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